When I was a pastor in New York City, I once pushed this idea of holy space to its limit. On an early morning, my wife, Gail, and I hosted four city bus drivers for breakfast in our apartment. We'd met each of them in the course of using public transportation each day and became aware that they were Christ-followers. As we ate, one of our guests commented on my work as a pastor and how much more exciting that must be in contrast to his perception of his ("boring, stressful, and occasionally dangerous") bus-driving work.
His observation could not go unchallenged.
"I have a thought for you that might spiff up your view of your jobs," I said to the four. "Why don't you start up your buses each morning and, while the engine is warming, walk down the aisle of the bus and shout, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I declare this bus to be a sanctuary where passengers will experience something of the love of Christ through me.' You can be a pastor in your own sanctuary."
I suggested that a bus (like a chapel, an arena, and a mountain hut) could be consecrated, "made holy," for higher purposes than just public transport. And I added that any job can be elevated into a form of pastoral Christ-serving if we start the day in such a way. I concluded, "See if Jesus honors your daily effort."
One of the drivers muttered, "I supposed we could try that."
In the weeks that followed, Gail and I would occasionally get on a bus operated by one of the four drivers. We'd quietly say—hoping that no one else would hear—"are you driving a bus or a sanctuary today?" Always, they'd answer, "It's a sanctuary, man, a sanctuary." Sometimes one of them would say when they saw either of us stepping on the bus, "Welcome to my sanctuary."
A few months later, one of the four drivers said he wanted a word with me.
"This sanctuary thing," he told me, "has changed my day. Yesterday, a guy got on the bus, and he began to curse at me when I wouldn't let him off at a corner where it's not legal to stop. Know something? There was a day when I would have invited someone like him to step off the bus and discuss things with our fists. But I stayed quiet, and when I finally let him off at the right place, I said, "Have a nice day, sir; glad you were aboard."
When I affirmed the driver for his patience, he said, "Oh, it's not really that difficult when you're driving a sanctuary instead of a bus."
Having told this story about our bus driver friends many times, I now have people who tell me that they've learned to declare their offices, their classrooms, their operating rooms into sanctuaries.
This morning I read once again (Mark 1) where Jesus, after a busy day, got up early the next morning and went off to "a solitary place where he prayed." I think Jesus would have thought of that place—quiet, beautiful, bereft of crowds—as a sanctuary.